The world of veterinary medicine is constantly progressing and is worlds away from what it was even just a few decades ago. One of the areas that has changed in leaps and bounds is behavioral medicine. As veterinarians and veterinary professionals learn more about the behaviors of our pets, they learn more about how to help our dogs when their behaviors become concerning or unhealthy. One medication that can help some dogs with anxiety is Clomipramine.
What Does Clomipramine Do?
Clomipramine (which is the generic form of the drug that is in Clomicalm) is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA), meaning its chemical structure is composed of three rings. TCAs work in the brain by blocking the re-uptake of neurotransmitters like serotonin and, to a lesser extent, norepinephrine, allowing them to circulate longer which tends to enhance moods and counteract depressive effects.
What Behavioral Conditions Can Clomipramine Treat?
Clomipramine is primarily used in the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs. It is also used sometimes in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorders (such as tail chasing) in dogs and even urine spraying in cats. As with all behavior medications, the efficacy of the medication is greatly magnified when paired with behavioral modification. This is essentially just a fancy term for training. Your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist can help create a training plan for you to work with your dog at home to reduce triggers for their anxiety and to help teach them useful commands that will show them what you want them to do in place of their previous behaviors.
Clomipramine is not meant to be a cure on its own, but rather it's meant to make desensitizing your dog to a stressor easier. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, being left alone may send them into a panic. If you have ever been unfortunate enough to experience severe anxiety, you know that your body seemingly takes over and all logic and reason fly out the window. Imagine trying to learn a new skill while in this mindset! You would very likely be hard pressed to do so. The goal of behavioral medication is to lower your dog's stress level enough to where they can focus and learn. This is so that you can then condition your dog to become more comfortable with the stressor, in this case you leaving them home alone, and learn new commands to help give them structure and direction on how to behave in those moments.
Side Effects of Clomipramine
If your vet prescribes your dog clomipramine, you may see some of the following side effects:
- lethargy/depression (i.e. your dog is laying around more and not as active)
- elevation in liver enzymes (on bloodwork)
- increased heart rate
- increased thirst
- changes in appetite
Talk to your vet if you notice any of the above symptoms.
Clomipramine should be used with caution in dogs that are taking certain other medications, including behavior modifying drugs such as MAOI inhibitors like Selegiline, SSRI's and some opioid pain medications, so inform your veterinarian if your dog was recently on these medications or is currently taking them. Clomipramine also should not be used in dogs that have glaucoma, thyroid disease, certain heart diseases or in dogs where there is a concern for urine retention.
Overdoses of clomipramine can be life-threatening, so if you suspect your dog got into their medication take your dog to the vet immediately. Signs of an overdose can include seizures, an abnormal heart rhythm, and even heart failure.
Clomipramine can be a handy medication to help your dog's anxiety and improve its quality of life. If you think your dog may benefit from being on it, talk to your veterinarian.
Moraczewski J, Aedma KK. Tricyclic antidepressants. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.